‘It is bizarre to be in Bamako now’, was the thought that came up regularly during my stay in Bamako this January. In the taxis I was observing and having a chat with the driver, along the sandy streets, the polluted air and busy beehive like structures that are markets. The traffic is dominated by motors driven by literally everybody, like flies in the streets, for personal use. Nobody has a permit, and that is clear from the way the motors are creating numerous moments of near-accident. Taxis are expensive, the mini-busses are crowded. Motorbikes imported from China are relatively affordable and give freedom of movement. Since March last year it seems that the number of motors has increased again.
Along the streets the building of houses continues, today also multiple-floor buildings. One of the quarters at the outskirts of Bamako, on the road to Segou, has been filled with houses over the past eight months. There is no bush left between the city and the surrounding hills that are gradually integrated into the expansion plans of the city. Bamako grows.
Then all the cars: they are numerous and stylish. Can so many people afford a car these days, or are these all ‘project’ cars? Are these related to another development that we observe in Bamako: the increasing number of NGOs and projects ‘bringing peace’ to Mali. The growth of the city, the apparently improving economy seems bizarre given the problems in other parts of the country.
Mali in war?
There is a war going on in this country. The troubles in the North and especially in the Centre are increasingly violent and seem to have covered larger parts of the country and included more people than before. Attacks are happening every day and often more than one a day. The official statistics report 750 deaths in 2017, but following the announcements on Facebook and reports in the media this number seems to be too low. A representant of Taabital Pulaaku, at the national bureau in Bamako, confirms that there are probably 1000ds of death. The stories from villagers who live in fear or are seduced by the new forms of religion, fill the online media and the offline newspapers. In his New Year’s speech, for which the president invited a large number of leaders, the message was conveyed that all is going well. Indeed, one part of the Malian economy works, fed by the economy of ‘la paix’ and ‘la guerre’. The presence of the UN military mission (MINUSMA) and inflow of NGOs has led to more cars, prices of houses going up, and jobs in the ‘peace industry’ in Bamako etc.: the well-known spoils of war on the national level. Despite this booming economy I have spoken to many people who question this optimistic attitude of the president and think that he has lost contact with reality.
One morning, when entering the office, a colleague who I last saw in March 2017, clings to me and starts to talk rather upset: ‘We are heading towards a war and they just do as if that reality is not there’. ‘They (meaning the ‘jihadists’, or ‘rebels’) attacked a police post (gendarmerie) in Markala close to Segou, they are at the doorstep of Bamako’. (…) ‘Who can deny this?’
Clearly, one can deny troubles in Bamako for now, especially with elections approaching. In a few months Malians will go to the ballot box, but what is there to choose? The present-day government is bankrupt, recently again three new ministerial posts were created, bringing the total to 36 ministries, who all have their personal budgets, extra’s, etc. But at the same time the population in the South might not go voting; they are fed up with the corruption of this government. Although some may still cling to the positive message and vote for IBK. The North will not vote: 70% of the schools are closed, famine looms around the corner, people are living in fear for the ‘people in the bush’. Or they join these people in the bush no longer trusting their State. The government is basically not present in the North. On top of all this, the president is heading a government that will soon launch its own military offensive to fight the terrorists in the North. Combined with other military preparations of the G5, and the presence of already a large number of UN soldiers, this will turn Central and North Mali into a real battlefield.
These messages from the government are informed by the wish to be re-elected. However, the promise that military action in the North and Centre of the country will end the chaotic situation and will allow the (middle class) citizens of Bamako to continue to dream their life of relative prosperity, is based on a dubious interpretation of the effect of the military approach. Can this really be effective? To securitize the vast region the military needs a large budget. The recent investments in the G5 group, Minusma and the new offensive of the Malian State will not suffice to cover the huge area that is the North and Centre of Mali. Control will be partial, concentrating on the cities, and as a result in the bush there will be a separate state led by so-called non-state actors.
For those who live in deep poverty life will only become worse again, but they are used to it. Their votes may make a difference, but will they have the chance to vote? Into which direction will their lives go?